Russia, Iran, and Turkey are proposing a plan for refugee “safe zones” in Syria that would be no-fly zones for all military aircraft, including those of the United States.
“The operation of aviation in the de-escalation zones, especially of the forces of the international coalition, is absolutely not envisaged, either with notification or without. This question is closed,” said Alexander Lavrentyev, Russia’s representative at Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan.
Lavrentyev added that planes from the U.S.-led coalition would still be allowed to operate against Islamic State targets in specific areas, but would be banned from entering “de-escalation zones,” as would planes from all other air forces, including those of Russia and Syria.
“As officials from the three countries that back rival sides in the conflict signed the agreement at talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana on Thursday, some members of the Syrian opposition delegation shouted in protest and walked out of the conference room,” CBS News and the Associated Press report.
Opposition representatives were particularly incensed by Iran’s participation in the talks, citing the large number of Shiite militia fighters Iran has brought into Syria to aid the regime of dictator Bashar Assad. As one rebel commander put it, “Iran is a country that is killing the Syrian people, and the killer cannot be the rescuer.”
The U.N. has signaled that it sees the agreement reached on Thursday in Kazakhstan as a “step in the right direction,” while Fox News notes that Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to the safe zone concept in principle during their recent telephone conversation. However, the White House has not yet officially commented on the new safe zone proposal.
On Friday, Russian media reported that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a telephone conversation about “de-escalation zones” in Syria.
According to Fox News, the safe zone proposal “delineates four zones in Syria where front lines between the government and rebels would be frozen and fighting halted.” Those four zones would include “areas in the provinces of Idlib and Homs, the eastern Ghouta suburbs outside Damascus, and an area in the south of the country.” Teams of international observers would monitor the safe zones.
The Syrian government is reportedly amenable to the proposal, while rebel commanders say they would prefer a nationwide ceasefire. The last attempt at such a ceasefire was quickly violated and collapsed after a few weeks.
“Sponsors of the deal hope that safe zones would bring relief for hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians and encourage refugees to return. But officials have expressed skepticism, stressing that safe zones have not had an encouraging track record,” notes the Associated Press.
Reuters quotes opposition delegates to the Kazakhstan talks denouncing the safe zone proposal as an attempt to divide Syria, in addition to their strenuous objections to Iran’s participation.